Setting Career Expectations for Each Member of the Vikings 2013 Draft Class
With the lack of superstars available at the skill positions, the 2013 draft was expected to be unpredictable, and it certainly played out that way.
The Vikings brass was giddy on Friday morning after getting three players that most draft experts figured would be gone by the time Minnesota made its first pick.
In the avalanche of draft analysis that always arrives in the days following the draft, the consensus has been that the Vikings had anywhere from an A- to a B draft. Those grading the Vikings on the lower end didn't like the idea of trading four picks to New England to move back into the first round.
Only time will tell if the Vikings got enough value in return, but most every Vikings fan is ecstatic about a draft that should provide not only just three starters at a minimum, but three players who have a chance to be high-impact starters.
A good rule of thumb is not to critique any NFL draft for three years, but who wants to wait that long? Let's take a look at what the Vikings might be able to expect from each of their nine selections in the 2013 draft.
1. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
The last time the Vikings were faced with an elite defensive tackle prospect who was tumbling down draft boards, his name was Warren Sapp and Minnesota is still kicking itself for passing on him.
The Vikings weren't going to let that happen again, especially with defensive tackle being a huge area of need, and they were more than happy to select Sharrif Floyd, who was ranked in the top five on most draft boards, with the 23rd pick on Thursday night.
The 6'3", 297-pound Floyd zoomed up draft boards after the combine, but ultimately was chosen in the neighborhood where most speculators had him right after the college season.
Floyd will be an immediate part of the Vikings inside rotation along with Kevin Williams and Letroy Guion. It's assumed that Floyd will overtake Guion for the lion's share of snaps at nose guard in 2013 and that he will ultimately take over for Williams at the "under tackle" spot in 2014.
On paper there's no reason to think that Floyd can't have a similar career to the man he'll be replacing, Kevin Williams. Although two inches shorter than Williams, Floyd is every bit the athlete. He's quicker than Williams ever was but certainly doesn't have the overall strength in both the legs and upper body that Williams does.
The best thing that Floyd will have going for him is the ability to learn from Williams as he begins his career. Williams has been the consummate professional for the Vikings from Day 1, and Floyd would do well to learn as much as he can from his mentor, both on and off the field.
2. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
When the Vikings released Antoine Winfield and then failed to re-sign him, they were left with an immediate hole at cornerback.
While Minnesota loves second-year man Josh Robinson, he's only 5'10" and a bit undersized to take on the likes of Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall four times a year.
With that in mind, the Vikings were more than happy to add Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes to their stable in the secondary. Largely regarded as the second-best cornerback in this draft behind Dee Milliner, the 6'1", 210-pound Rhodes excels in press coverage and is an ideal fit for a team playing in such a pass-happy division.
With his combination of size and speed (a 4.43 forty time), Rhodes, like Floyd, was expected by most to be gone by the time the Vikings picked at No. 25.
Rhodes become the highest drafted Vikings cornerback since Dewayne Washington was selected 16th in 1994.
Though not quite as big as the Seahawks' Brandon Browner, Rhodes plays the same type of game as Seattle's reclamation project. Rhodes is very physical at the line of scrimmage and has a great ability to battle one-on-one with receivers.
It's not absurd for Vikings fans to hope that Rhodes can develop into a Pro Bowl type player, but at the least, he should become a top-15 corner in the league.
3. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Ultimately, the success of the Minnesota Vikings' 2013 draft class will be judged on the performance of Cordarrelle Patterson, the mercurial receiver out of Tennessee that the Vikings traded four picks to New England to in order to get.
As high as Patterson's potential is, plenty of eyebrows were raised around the league when the Vikings gave up so much to get Patterson. Minnesota obviously felt like it was worth the risk to get a guy who is potentially capable of so much.
If Patterson is as good as the Vikings hope he will be, everyone will forget about what they gave up to get him.
If not, there will plenty of bemoaning what could have been if the Vikings had simply kept the picks they had.
At pick No. 52 the Vikings could have had Arthur Brown, Terrance Williams or Keenan Allen. At No. 83 they could have had Ace Sanders, Matt Barkley or Zaviar Gooden. At No. 102 they could have had Tyler Wilson, Alex Okafor or Khaseem Greene.
Will Patterson be more valuable than three players from those groups? It sure will be exciting to find out.
On paper, Patterson has a far better chance to become an NFL superstar than any of those players, and that's certainly what the Vikings are hoping for.
At 6'2" and 216 pounds with blazing speed and a great ability to make people miss, Patterson is dripping with superstar potential. He should make an immediate impact as a kick returner, and the Vikings will design plenty of ways to get the ball in his hands quickly, much like they did with Percy Harvin.
There's no doubting Patterson's talent once he has the ball in his hands. It's getting it there that might be the only issue early in his career. With just one season of SEC football under his belt, Patterson is raw in terms of running routes and reading defenses.
His upside is almost immeasurable. Imagine a Josh Cribbs who can give you 75 catches a season.
It will be incumbent on the Vikings to teach Patterson how to get open and how to catch the football at the NFL level. He has all the athleticism in the world and will quickly be a terror in gaining yards after the catch.
If everything goes according to plan, Patterson can take the spot in Vikings annals that seemed to be reserved for Percy Harvin.
4. Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State
In the 1970s and '80s, if you got two linebackers from Penn State in the NFL draft, you were probably laughing all the way to the playoffs.
While no longer thought of as "Linebacker U," Penn State still cranks out solid NFL players, and the Vikings are hoping they got a couple with the two Nittany Lions linebackers they culled in the 2013 draft.
Minnesota let underwhelming middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley walk in free agency, and as of now it's unclear how it hopes to fill that spot, but the Vikings have given themselves plenty of options.
The 6'1", 242-pound Hodges is a converted safety who is excellent in coverage, something the Vikings have lacked from their linebackers of late.
The two-time second team All-Big 10 selection might not be the run-stuffer you want in the middle on first down, but Hodges' ability to play sideline to sideline should make him a valuable addition the Vikings linebacker corps.
Hodges is a high-character player that the Vikings covet and also a very versatile piece that they can use in plenty of different game situations. It's pretty clear that Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson will be on the field for most snaps, and the other linebacker spots will be up for grabs between Hodges, Audie Cole and Mike Mauti.
Expect Hodges to be a solid part of the Vikings linebacker rotation.
5. Jeff Locke, P, UCLA
Jeff Locke, the Vikings' fifth-round pick out of UCLA, is Minnesota's new punter.
It's no secret that Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer was getting a little tired with Kluwe's off-field news-making, but, as reported by the Star-Tribune's Mark Craig, Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman insists that that had nothing to do with the drafting of Locke.
Longtime NFL super-scout Gil Brandt reported from UCLA's pro day that Locke was every bit as good the punter as Bryan Anger, who the Jaguars took in the third round last year and was second in the NFL in net punting in 2012.
Chris Kluwe was fun to have around and was certainly a capable NFL punter, but his days in purple are numbered. Kluwe will probably be let go as soon as the Vikings get a look at Locke's booming leg in Eden Prairie.
The Vikings can only hope that Locke is as impressive as a rookie as kicker Blair Walsh was in 2012. With Locke and Walsh on hand, the Vikings should have the best kicking game in the NFL.
6. Jeff Baca, OG, UCLA
In the sixth round, the Vikings began to add depth to their offensive line by selecting guard Jeff Baca out of UCLA.
Baca, at 6'3" and 302 pounds, will have to get a bit stronger in his legs to be effective in the NFL, but the Vikings love his versatility and his tenacity.
Baca started 45 games at UCLA, battling through injuries and an academic suspension to be named second team All-Pac-12 as a senior.
Baca brings a nastiness and a wealth of football smarts to the Vikings and will certainly battle for a backup spot at the guard position.
7. Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State
The Vikings used the first of their three seventh-round selections on Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti, a kid who, without his injury history, probably would have gone in the second round.
Mauti, however, has quite the injury history, suffering three major knee injuries as well as ankle sprains and shoulder injuries that hampered him throughout his time at Penn State.
Beyond that, Mauti is an old-school linebacker in the Penn State tradition. Smart, physical and tenacious when he's playing uninjured, Mauti is a tackling machine who leads both vocally and by example.
At 6'2" and 243 pounds, Mauti lacks the speed to play on the outside in the NFL, but his football instincts combined with his toughness make him a good candidate on the inside.
If Mauti can stay healthy, and obviously that's a big if, it's not outrageous to think that he could be the Vikings' starting middle linebacker come opening day.
8. Travis Bond, OG, North Carolina
With the Vikings' second pick in the seventh round, they took a flier on guard Travis Bond out of North Carolina.
At 6'6" and 329 pounds, Bond is a massive man who, if he can compete athletically with NFL players, would be a great addition the Vikings offensive line corps.
Despite his huge size, Bond has pretty good feet. If he can learn to harness all that size, he can stick at the NFL level. Bond will run into problems if he doesn't learn how to stay low and use his leg strength to take on defensive lineman and linebackers.
Bond was obviously overshadowed by All-American Jonathan Cooper at the other guard position for North Carolina, but there's just no missing Bond, who is almost always the biggest player on the field.
If Bond works hard and learns some of the intricacies of playing guard at the highest level, it's not impossible for him to become an NFL starter.
9. Everett Dawkins, DT, Florida State
The Vikings used their last pick in the 2013 draft to take defensive tackle Everett Dawkins out of Florida State.
Dawkins is slightly undersized to play defensive tackle in the NFL, at 6'2", 292 pounds. He didn't put up staggering numbers at FSU, due mostly to the Seminoles rotation system, but Dawkins was certainly one of the more athletic defensive tackles in college football.
Dawkins is very quick along the line and has a nice array of moves to beat blockers and get into the backfield. He's a very aggressive player, and if he can add some bulk and strength to his frame, he could certainly develop into an NFL starter.
Playing defensive line in the NFL is a very tricky thing to predict. John Randle was clearly too small to play there, but he made the Hall of Fame. Nobody anticipated that J.J. Watt would be as ridiculously good as he is.
Everett Dawkins was certainly worth a seventh-round pick to see how his skills translate to the next level. At this point, nobody really knows if he'll be in over his head or if he'll make a place for himself on the roster.